Developer Takes Game Down Due To Piracy, But With A Twist

from the not-what-you-think dept

Perhaps like some of you, I follow Notch, the creator of Minecraft, on Twitter, and he frequently plugs other games he thinks are worthwhile (or not; see his Duke Nukem “review”). So it was with great interest that I read a tweet of his showing solidarity with the developers of a game called ProjectZomboid and their recent struggle with piracy. Naturally, I had to look into this, both because Notch’s recommendations are usually very worthwhile, and because, as a Techdirt reader, I wanted to see what all the piracy fuss was about. Given Notch’s previous statements about his lack of concern over “piracy,” it certainly caught my attention. As it turns out, and as the title of this post implies, the developers of ProjectZomboid had recently taken down the paid version of their game due to piracy.

Now, if you’re a regular reader and fellow Kool-Aid drinker I know what you’re going to say. I had a facepalm moment myself, since we often see misguided creators try to combat piracy by removing the only legal avenue to purchase their work online, thus ensuring that the pirated version is the only version their fans can get their hands on. But when I read more about their decision making, I found that their reasons had nothing to do with the typical, fallacious “every pirated copy is a lost sale” mentality, and instead were centered on a technical flaw in their distribution system that actually cost them money from pirated copies. Their news item about the take down made it quite clear that while they would, of course, prefer that people paid, they don’t see piracy as some kind of demon that sucks away their revenues:

Pirates have made a version of the game that auto-downloads Project Zomboid from our server whenever the player clicks an ‘update’ button.

We’ve always turned a blind eye to pirate copies, even on occasion recommending people who had problems with the legit version try a pirate version until the issues are resolved. We realise the potential viral benefits of pirate copies, and while obviously we?d prefer people to purchase our issue is not with those.

However, these ‘auto updating’ versions of the game could screw us completely. We have a cloud based distribution model, where the files are copied all over the world and are served to players on request, which means we are charged money for people downloading the game. Whether piracy actually amounts to lost sales we’re not going to get into. The possibility that it raises awareness and promotes the game cannot be ignored, but the difference is offline versions on torrents, which we’ve been largely unconcerned about, do not cost us real money, only potential money, and even then we can’t really guess at what the net effect is.

Those are the words of a developer who has gotten past the standard knee-jerk reaction to piracy and are starting to think about how it can be a benefit, which is something I always like to see. And after they took down the paid version of the game, they wisely put up a free tech demo in its stead to tide the public over until they can get a new distribution model set up.

All in all, their attitude toward the whole situation and their quality demo certainly worked on me, an IP “abolitionist”. I ended up forking over my ~$8 quite eagerly, and if you enjoy a good zombie apocalypse, maybe you will too.

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Comments on “Developer Takes Game Down Due To Piracy, But With A Twist”

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Kevin (profile) says:

OT/Meta Comment

I would just like to say that this is an unsurprisingly well-written post, from a commenter whose comments I frequently enjoy. I would especially like to point this out in light of my recent criticisms of Tim-squared, where — although I frequently enjoy their comments — I don’t think their posts usually fit with the style of writing (serious) I’m accustomed to seeing here.

[chanting: More Chris! More Chris!]

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: OT/Meta Comment

I couldn’t agree w/you more on both points. This site clearly needs more Chris Rhodes.

It also needs severely less Tims. I mean, those two are complete jackasses. They never write about anything serious, like TSA patdowns, people getting arrested for dancing, or stupid DRM attempts by the people who make Resident Evil.

I don’t understand why the Tims don’t just go away. They’re probably the same person, anyway….

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What I find fascinating is that the business models for things like Minecraft and ProjectZomboid are almost ad-hoc Kickstarters. You’re not paying for a complete game; you’re paying to support the developer while he finishes a game you’d like to see made. In some ways, this is a much better model than “spend $100 million up front to make a game and pray that someone wants it so you can recoup”. Instead, you release a tech demo with a few key features, promise that early adopters will get the full version when it’s done, and base your future work on what money comes in.

Also interesting is that these business models are based largely on trust. At this point, I’d say I’ve definitely gotten my $15 worth out of Minecraft, even if Notch never updates again, but at some point that payment was made trusting that he wouldn’t default on his promise to finish the game, and a big part of that trust is the attitude of the developers towards their fans. When developers come out and connect with fans like Notch does, and like the Zomboid devs do, trust is increased. If instead they come out threatening to spend their money not on making the game better, but on hiring a team of lawyers to sue the pants off everyone who pirated the game, trust is decreased.

So while I think the business model is solid, I hope that more indie developers see and understand what truly makes games like these a success (connect with fans). Throwing up an early proof-of-concept demo and asking for donations won’t work if the community hates you.

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree with you in that the model is much better, the completeness of the demo is critical in instilling trust. I take the example of the Halflife mod “Natural Selection” made by Charlie (Flayra) Cleveland. He made an awesome game in NS1, he then started a project to began to port it to Halflife 2 mod over 5 years ago and I almost pre-ordered when just starting out knowing what a great job he did with NS1. Then I almost pre-ordered again a year later because he had some cool “organic growth” demos out. Now I am glad I didn’t pre-order as it’s been 5 years and the BETA is barely out. He too was using pre-orders to fund development on the game.

My Point is, 5 years is a long wait for a return on investment for a consumer to wait for a game. Far longer than I think most consumers are willing to wait. I think this business plan could get a lot of developers in trouble with people waiting for a game that may never get finished. What if only a few people buy in.. and its not enough to finish the game, do those people get a refund? This “Pay to finish” method should be carefully implemented near the very end of development when the end is truly in sight.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Se,, this also makes sense, from a Kickstart PoV. However, you’ll usually find that it’s not the price-point, but the valuation that’s the relevant part.

In this particular case, piracy had an actual, provable harm to it. Which means that there would be legal grounds to sue. Having nbot done so, these devs ahve gone up in my estimation.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“This “Pay to finish” method should be carefully implemented near the very end of development when the end is truly in sight.”

I can’t agree on that.

Let’s remember that Valve has time working with it for games. Team Fortress 2 took 9 years to complete. Half-Life 3 is basically vaporware and Episode 3 is nowhere to be found right now.

The best suggestion I could give is to start small with the games on sites such as Newgrounds or Armor Games, have the money come in, and build from there.

As someone gets larger into the gaming world, building more experience, they can get into the more complex games.

Tom Fulp had a lot of success with Castle Crashers and Newgrounds.

Epic did start as an indie project.
There’s plenty of avenues to connect with fans and it doesn’t have to be just pay to finish near the end. More or less, I would advocate a lot more openness than most developers tend to give for larger games. Perhaps, they could include people in a game near the middle depending on what it is.

Hothmonster says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

With things like this, minecraft and spyparty (i had to sneak it in there the 10~15$ closed beta starts soon) you are getting what you paid for upfront. They are not saying give us 59.99$ for a demo or pay us before we give you anything. Its a cheap price point for a playable and hopefully fun (check first) alpha/beta build. You should be getting your monies worth of fun out of the build you get day one, or close to it.

You should not give money if there is nothing playable currently on the table and in the same respect developers shouldn’t ask for money if something playable isn’t available to avoid the kind of situation you describe. Unless of course you have complete faith in the developer, I would happily give Valve 50$ bucks if they just said, “we have a game coming out sometime in the next 12 months, no other info is available. Will that be credit or debit?” But with most devs if they ask me for 10$ now for a demo and then a cheap/free version of the final game, there has to be something they have on the table for me to even consider it. It doesn’t have to be complete or bug free just something to let me know the game is this far along and the dev is committed and capable.

I think the a major reasons why this method is important that no one has touched on yet is it opens a channel between the dev. and fans. Part of what you are paying for is the privilege to be a dedicated beta tester. That means you can help shape the game, give insight and watch it grow. Most finished games I play have a few little small things I think I could improve, an idea here, a menu there, better option there and with offers like these I get to say, “hey really loving the game but there is that section where X happens and Y pops up, I see you are trying to accomplish something like Z but have you ever thought about trying……….” The dev benefits (if he can keep up with the emails) and the fans get to feel like a part of the process and develop a closer connection to the game and are then more likely to recommend the game to friends/strangers.

Anonymous Coward says:

The obvious question is: How is it possible for players (pirate or otherwise) to download the full game from the company server without some kind of user account login?

If you have your “cloud based distribution model” serving your content to anyone who thinks to ask with no verification, you’re asking for trouble, plain and simple.

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